The Sonata-Form Structure of Galdós's La

VOL. 3, NUM. 1
“Beethoven” and “Sigue Beethoven”:
The Sonata-Form Structure of Galdós’s La desheredada
Vernon A. Chamberlin
It has been demonstrated that while creating the novel Tristana, as well as the first volume
of Fortunata y Jacinta, Galdós did clearly follow the musical pattern known as sonata form.1
This musical design is most frequently used as the basic structure for the first or last
movement of a sonata (and sometimes also for the first movement of a symphony, as in
the case of Beethoven’s Third [Eroica] Symphony). In creative fiction it has served as a
model for such well-known authors as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster,
Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, and Anthony Burgess.2 Because Galdós suggests in two
consecutive chapters, “Beethoven” and “Sigue Beethoven,” that La desheredada might be
read as if it were a sonata, the purpose of the present study is to explore the structure of
the novel as sonata form, as has been done with Tristana. Further, we shall suggest why
Galdós chose La desheredada to be the first of his sonata-form novels.
Musicologist Leonard Ratner has pointed out that one of the most distinguishing features
of the sonata form is its similarity to a formal argument or debate, with the main parts
being the exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda:
The first premise is the home key, represented by thematic material which
we shall call A.
The second premise is the contrasting key, represented by thematic material which we shall call B.
The home key makes its point with A; the point is refuted by the contrasting key with B. This refutation takes longer to accomplish than
the initial argument; it also makes its final point with great emphasis. (We are now at the end of the exposition.)
The premise of contrasting-key material is undermined by the digressions
and explorations of the development.
Home-key A material returns (recapitulation) to reestablish the first premise, but in order to settle the argument and reconcile the two contrasting premises, the home key later incorporates the B material,
showing that there can be unity, after all, between A and B. To
Decimonónica 3.1 (2006): 11-27. Copyright 2006 Decimonónica and Vernon A. Chamberlin. All rights
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Chamberlin 12
make its point more powerfully, the home key asserts itself with
great emphasis (coda). (240)
Galdós’s novel La desheredada follows a similar structural plan, and the main
correspondences between this novel and a typical sonata form can be outlined as follows:
Musical equivalent
Initial A theme
Initial B theme
A theme restated
B theme restated
Transition to development
Galdós’s chapters
Volume I, Chapters 1-3
Volume I, Chapter 1
Volume I, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3,
paragraphs 1-383
Volume I, Chapter 3, paragraphs 39-70
Remainder of Volume I, Chapter 3
Volume I, Chapter 4
Volume I, Chapters 5-18
Volume II, Chapters 1-9
Volume II, Chapters 10-17
Volume II, Chapter 18
Let us now examine the details of Galdós’s working out of this pattern. We shall do so in
chronological order, beginning with the exposition.
In this opening portion Galdós, like a musical composer, presents (in the customary
symmetrical pattern) the main themes he will be working with throughout the rest of the
novel. He commences by presenting his A theme—illusion and irrationality4—as the
novel opens with a focus upon the extravagant and bizarre behavior of mental patients in
the Leganés asylum. The most notable inmate, and incarnation of the A theme, is Tomás
Rufete, the father of Isidora, the protagonist. However, before the end of the first chapter,
one sees that Isidora, who has come to visit her father on the day he happens to be dying,
does not herself live in a world of complete reality. She affirms that Tomás Rufete is not
her biological father, and the assistant to the asylum’s director, who at this juncture seems
grounded in reality and very wise, plays into Isidora’s illusion: “[Sí], entiendo, entiendo.
Usted, por su nacimiento, pertenece a otra clase más elevada, sólo que circunstancias
[. . .] le hicieron descender [. . .]” (I, i, 1: 27).5 However, this assistant, Canseca, soon
becomes unhinged himself; we learn that he has also been a patient here for thirty-two
years, and thus may be considered yet another personification of the A theme. After the
asylum’s director has to tell Isidora that her father has died, Augusto Miquis, a young
medical student who happens to be a childhood acquaintance from Isidora’s home town,
consoles her and offers to accompany her back to Madrid. Together, they leave the
asylum, “la morada de la sinrazón” (I, i, 4: 35), as Galdós concludes the initial
presentation of his A theme.
After the presentation of the opening A theme, Beethoven characteristically created a
“connecting episode.” Galdós follows suit with a focus upon Isidora’s existing thoughts
Chamberlin 13
and feelings. This focus continues until her visit the next day to her aunt, Encarnación
Guillén, popularly known as La Sanguijuelera.
Now clearly following the sonata-form pattern, Galdós’s B theme (his answering contrast
to the A theme) predominates in chapters 2 and 3. This new theme—reality—is made
manifest by means of the chapter-title protagonists, La Sanguijuelera and Mariano. The
former, Isidora’s sixty-eight year old aunt, is quite grounded in reality, which is a
prerequisite for surviving as an independent shopkeeper in a lower-class Madrid
neighborhood. After some getting-reacquainted visiting, the colorful Sanguijuelera takes
Isidora to visit her thirteen-year-old brother, Mariano, who is working in a rope factory
under the most horrible conditions. Here we certainly see the harsh reality of life as it is,
vivified by the all-too-common nineteenth-century exploitation of child labor.6 Clearly
the two eponymous chapter protagonists, individually and in tandem, offer a strong
contrast to those who had earlier personified the A theme, as Galdós now completes his
initial answering and contrasting B theme.
As in the music of a sonata form, Galdós’s A theme now comes back to emphasize its
previous premise. The author does this (II, iii) as Isidora elaborates on her earlier
statement to Canseca in the Leganés asylum: Tomás Rufete is not her father. Moreover,
she affirms that she and her brother are children of a marquesa, and she has legal
documents to prove her claim. Thus, as is customary in the sonata-form pattern, Galdós’s
A theme now has returned with greater intensity, while at the same time it presents a
number of sub-themes that open possibilities for further development.
At this juncture, as in a musical composition, the B theme is given a final chance for
rebuttal. La Sanguijuelera, who has a “gran sentido para apreciar la realidad de las cosas”
(I, iii: 55), begins mocking Isidora’s aristocratic pretensions with deflating sarcasm.
Finally, she grabs a stick and beats Isidora on the head. When the stick breaks, she
combines the two parts and is able to strike still harder, even after Isidora falls to the floor.
Although Isidora would like to resist, “devolviendo cólera por cólera, hubo de rendirse al
fin [. . .]. En sus veinte años, Isidora tenía menos fuerza que la sexagenaria Encarnación”
(I, iii: 56). Clearly the B theme is much the stronger here, and it has triumphed in its
contention with the A theme.
Thus we have arrived at the end of Galdós’s exposition. The two themes—illusion and
irrationality versus reality—have been presented, rebutted, re-presented, and once again
rebutted. Both themes are now ready for further development and interplay throughout
the rest of the novel, significantly with the B theme having had the last word in the formal
or debate sense and showing so much more strength than the A theme as to make its final
triumph at the end of the novel seem likely.
Transition to the development section
In music—and certainly in Beethoven’s sonatas—there is nearly always a transitional
passage (using the A theme) that leads to the development section. In Galdós’s novel, a
similar transitional passage occurs in chapter 4. Having recovered from the beating by
her aunt, Isidora now reveals her thoughts and feelings as she interacts extensively with
Chamberlin 14
Miquis during his guided tour of well-known sites in Madrid: El Retiro, El Prado, and La
Castellana. Very importantly, Isidora considers herself too highborn and sophisticated for
any romantic involvement with the reality-grounded medical student. Then at the climax
of the chapter (with transcendent authorial foreshadowing of the novel’s ending) Isidora
enthusiastically identifies with the “[mujeres de] las mantillas blancas” (I, iv, 4: 81-82)—
prostitutes hired to protest the reign of Amadeo I—whom she mistakenly believes are
aristocratic ladies, worthy of emulation. Thus we see the A-versus-B counterpoint of
reality/pragmatism and illusion/fantasy, set forth in yet another variation.
Development section
Before entering into a discussion of the long development section, let us pause to consider
the main features of this part of the sonata form. The purpose of this section, as its name
suggests, is to develop the themes set forth in the exposition. The composer is at liberty to
unfold and explore the manifold possibilities in each theme, modifying, fragmenting,
complicating, and embellishing as much as his talent will permit. This is one of the more
challenging segments of a sonata-form structure and a place where the composer may
demonstrate his resourcefulness and imagination. However, there is one thing a composer
must do: he is obliged to undermine gradually the key of the B theme (which had
appeared the stronger, more triumphant at the end of the exposition) so that its ultimate
surrender and subsequent fading away, near the end of the entire sonata-form section,
will seem logical and readily acceptable to the listener. Ratner states that “as a rule, the
section called the development goes far afield harmonically, creating a great deal of instability; toward the end the harmony settles so that a cadence to the home key of the A
theme is first promised, then accomplished at the recapitulation [the section following the
development and preceding the coda]” (238).
Let us now see how Galdós creates his own novelistic parallel to a musical development
section (I, v-II, ix). Basically he is unfolding and exploring various possibilities of his
contending illusion and reality themes, illustrated through a beautiful young provincial
woman who disdains working for a living and attempts to reside in the Spanish capital
and pursue an irrational lawsuit. The latter is part of a completely unrealistic quest to
become acknowledged as a biological member of an old aristocratic family. As the
contending themes continue to interact, a number of sub-themes (initiated already in the
exposition) are also given attention. These include Isidora’s haughtiness, her love of
luxury, her belief that her brother can be educated, and her financial irresponsibility.
With chapter 5 opening the development section, the A theme predominates as Isidora
reacts to the fact that a handsome aristocrat, the Marqués viudo de Saldeoro, has left his
calling card. This causes her to feel so superior to Miquis that she breaks off an
engagement to attend the theater with him. Thus she can devote the entire evening to her
fantasies, even imagining in great detail how each of the next four days and evenings will
Not included in her fantasies are the everyday events of her brother and his associates.
Thus the B theme can and does predominate as chapter 6 realistically features boys at
Chamberlin 15
play. Climactically the realistic elements turn violent with Mariano killing another boy
and being arrested (I, vi, 3: 111-19).
Meanwhile the A theme is continuing (chapter 7) as Isidora goes shopping in Madrid.
First she stops for Mass, but the service for her is only a backdrop for reverie. Now it is
revealed that her notion about being the as-yet-unrecognized daughter of a marquesa
comes from novels she has read: “Yo he leído mi propia historia tantas veces” (I, vii: 123).
Her weakness for luxury and superfluous items, as well as her inability to be practical with
her money, are repeatedly demonstrated in this chapter, entitled “Tomando posesión de
Madrid.” Thus, when she arrives home,“cargada de compras” (I, vii: 127), and learns of
her brother’s arrest, she has difficulty even scraping together enough money for cab fare
to visit him in jail.
In chapter 8 Galdós introduces three new voices of his A theme. The first is José
Relimpio, a blood relative of Tomás, Isidora, and Mariano Rufete. As such, this “hombre
que no servía para nada” (I, viii, 1: 130) carries the same hereditary traits that predispose
the family towards irrational thought and behavior. So also does his son Melchor, whose
manifestation of the family weakness is seen in repeated, completely unrealistic get-richquick schemes. Of a different sort is Melchor’s mother, Doña Laura. Although a
representative of reason vis-à-vis her delusionary boarder Isidora (I, viii, 2: 141), Laura
reveals herself to be out of touch with reality concerning all aspects of the life of her
unemployed son, Melchor.
An important innovation of an entirely different kind occurs in chapters 9 and 10 as
Galdós gives a purposeful authorial clue to the sonata-form structure as pattern for the
entire novel.7 In chapter 9 (“Beethoven”) he presents the grandson of the Marquesa de
Aransis actually playing a piano sonata, while simultaneously Galdós grants a look at the
Aransis family history. Galdós’s descriptions of the intricacies of Beethoven’s artistry (I, ix,
1: 158-59) display the author’s ability to pattern a work of his own using musical
techniques and analogies. The narrator says (in part):
Una idea sola, tan sencilla como desgarradora, aparecía entre el vértigo de
mil ideas secundarias y se perdía luego en la más caprichosa variedad de
diseños que puede concebir la fantasía, para aparecer al instante
transformada. [. . .] De modulación en modulación, la idea única se iba
desfigurando sin dejar de ser la misma, semejanza de un historión que
cambia de vestido. Su cuerpo subsistía, su aspecto variaba. (I, ix, 1: 158)
External evidence also indicates that Galdós’s knowledge of Beethoven’s sonatas was
sufficient to enable him to follow the latter’s structural designs. Rafael Moragas indicates
that Galdós’s mastery of Beethoven’s music was achieved by strenuous application:
“[D]on Benito descifraba trabajosamente las sonatas de Beethoven en un armonium que
tenía cuando vivía [. . .] en Madrid” (qtd. in Verdaguer 176). A letter from Manrique de
Lara confirms Moraga’s suggestion that Galdós worked hard at analyzing Beethoven’s
compositions. Apologizing to Galdós for having to miss an appointment, Lara remarks,
“Confío en que mañana podré hacerlo y no sólo podremos concertar el andante de
Beethoven, sino hacer un primeroso y detenidísimo estudio de la harmonia” (qtd. in
Chamberlin 16
Sopena Ibáñez 26). The letter also suggests that Lara was serving as a consultant to
Galdós, for he notes, “Tenga la seguridad de que para mí es una honra muy grande y un
verdadero placer el ser de alguna utilidad para Vd.” (qtd. in Sopena Ibáñez 26). Yet
another friend who knew that Galdós was interested in the analysis of Beethoven’s works
was the pianist and composer Joaquín Malats, who wrote to Galdós: “Ahora estoy
estudiando la sonata op. 111 de Beethoven [. . .] ya verá Vd. Es sencillamente
monumental” (qtd. in Sopena Ibáñez 136). And Galdós himself said in 1902 in the prólogo
to Alma y vida:
Tracé y construí la ideal arquitectura de Alma y vida, siguiendo por
espiritual atracción, el plan y módulo de la composión beethoviana, y no
se tome esto a desvarío, que el más grande de los músicos es quien mejor
nos revela la esencia y aun el desarrollo del sentimiento dramático. (900)
However, in chapter 10 of La desheredada (“Sigue Beethoven”) Galdós, who was both a
consummate pianist and organist, acknowledges how challenging a Beethoven sonata can
be. Even as Isidora is visiting the Aransis mansion and fantasizing about possessing its
luxuries, the narrator’s friend, Dr. Miquis, attempts to play one of the sonatas in the book
left on the piano. Before long he has to acknowledge his insufficient talent: “—¡Pobre
Beethoven mío!—exclamó el estudiante, dejando de tocar y haciendo un gesto de
desesperación—. ¡Qué lejos estabas de caer entre mis dedos!” (I, x: 171).
In chapters 9 and 10 Galdós also continues with his customary A-theme/B-theme
contention. Isidora voices the A theme as she identifies with the luxuries of the Aransis
mansion and persists in the illusion that they will soon be hers. Juan Bou, the realitybased proletarian from the other extreme of Spain’s social structure, is the contrasting Btheme representative.
Additionally, one might even postulate an A-theme/B-theme interplay concerning the
Beethoven sonata itself. The narrator talks about the difficulties of playing Beethoven
(theme B); Miquis tries to play it and fails (theme A, optimism and illusion, overcome by
theme B, his inability to play it well). The latter also contrasts with the inherent beauty of
Beethoven’s music when played well (theme A).
In contrast to the second sonata player, Galdós himself shows no evidence of any
difficulties in following his own structural plan, for in chapter 11 (“Insomnio número
cincuenta y tantos”) he again presents his A theme, now with unrelenting vigor. Isidora’s
fantasies are now so intense that each night they keep her awake hour after hour. Not
only does she believe that she will be rich, but also that the Marqués will marry her. Her
one realistic insight into her personal circumstances occurs near the end of the chapter
and concerns her health: “En mi cabeza hay algo que no marcha bien. Esto es una
enfermedad” (I, xi: 176).
A respite from such intensity, and a complete change of pace, occurs in chapter 12 (“Los
Peces [Sermón]”) as Galdós leisurely introduces the Pez family. Only at the climax of the
chapter does it become clear how much this political family incarnates the B theme, since
they are interested in helping Isidora only because her uncle (el canónigo) in La Mancha is
Chamberlin 17
their local representative. Certainly they do not see any validity in Isidora’s aspirations:
“Esto es novela. [. . .] Admitámoslo en las novelas ¡pero en la realidad . . . !” (I, xii, 3:
190). Even more suggestive, Isidora’s beloved marqués (Joaquín Pez) is only interested in
Thus it is understandable that the A and B themes collide head-on in chapter 13
(“Cursilona”) as Joaquín Pez attempts to obtain sexual favors. In exchange for financial
support, he offers to install Isidora in a house of her own. Although greatly tempted,
Isidora resists and Pez loses his composure, labeling her cursilona (I, xiii: 197).
After Pez and Isidora reconcile, Galdós intensifies his narrative—appropriate at this
juncture for a novel whose first volume will be published separately—by bestowing upon
his B theme the vigor of a musical cadential drive. That is, he has harsh reality
predominate through four chapters (I, xiv-xvii), which include all but the final chapter of
volume I. Thus in chapter 13 (“Navidad”) the misery of Isidora’s situation is emphasized
through juxtaposition with the Relimpio family’s Christmas Eve merrymaking. Isidora
and her brother, Mariano, are forced to eat alone in her room. With good humor, Miquis
(always a representative of the B theme) pops in to deprecate her fantasies. She, however,
is in no mood to enjoy this, as she is able to offer only very meager food to her brother,
and the latter is unappreciative and highly insulting. Then (in “Mario promete” [I, xv])
the brother subsequently drops out of school and “descendió [. . .] hasta el nivel más bajo,
concluyendo por incorporarse a las turbas más compatibles con su fiereza y condición
picaresca. Granujas de la peor estofa [. . .] formaban su pandilla” (I, xv: 221).
Subsequently, the climax of volume I occurs as the Marquesa de Aransis (in “Anagnórisis”
[I, xvi]) tells Isidora personally and emphatically that her pretensions are without merit
and that Isidora certainly is not her granddaughter. As a consequence, the denouement of
volume I becomes Isidora’s reaction to this reality, including her sexual surrender to
Joaquín Pez (I, xvii), who had earlier offered to establish her as his mistress in a house of
her own.
Notwithstanding the strong cadential drive just described—which really closes the story
line of volume I—Galdós brings back the A theme in a coda-like chapter for
enhancement (paralleling the customary musical coda at the conclusion of an entire
sonata-form structure). This is accomplished as the final chapter (I, xviii) explains clearly
why the A theme has been so strong and so persistent throughout the volume, and why
accordingly it thus merits the final (debate-like) statement.
Entitled “Últimos consejos de mi tío el canónigo,” this chapter illustrates in great detail
how, since very early childhood, Isidora has been indoctrinated by her mentally ill uncle
with the multiple errors and fantasies which she has revealed throughout volume I.
Moreover, the illusion theme is delightfully corroborated here by the fact that the uncle
lives in La Mancha and is surnamed Quijano-Quijada; his letter of consejos to Isidora is
clearly a parody of Don Quijote’s advice to Sancho prior to the latter’s becoming the
governor of an island.
It is significant to note that in the chapter just described, Galdós has departed from the
usual sonata-form pattern. Ordinarily, one would not expect to see such a coda-like
Chamberlin 18
chapter at the midpoint of a sonata-form novel. However, since La desheredada was
published in two volumes, it needed a good, strong, reader-satisfying chapter to close
volume I. This was done by capping the B-theme cadential drive of chapters 14 through
17 with an A-theme coda in order to have the volume be a self-contained, aesthetically
pleasing work of art in its own right (and marketable to the public). Thus Galdós’s
departure from the musical pattern was dictated by the demands of the publishing format
and does not constitute a flaw in the novel’s sonata-form structure.
Volume II
Galdós’s initial chapter of volume II picks up the story line thirty-four months after the
close of volume I. Dr. Miquis has told the narrator what has happened to Isidora since
the reader last saw her. Isidora has now been set up as a kept woman by the Marqués
Saldeoro in a house of her own. Although the Marqués (Joaquín Pez) has not married her,
she has given birth to a macrocephalic child. Certainly the latter is a reflection of one of
the aspects of the A theme, for Dr. Miquis warns Isidora that her “deliriante ambición y
vicio mental le darán una descendencia de cabezudos raquíticos” (II, i: 256).
Appropriately this chapter is entitled “Efemérides” (diary or journal), for each paragraph
in the second half of the chapter begins with a date (for example, “1873. 1o de marzo”)
and tells what is happening in Isidora’s life (the A theme), juxtaposed against a
background of concurrent national events (political turmoil and civil war), which show
that the B or reality theme is also still continuing in this second volume. By the time the
monarchy has been restored (early 1875), Isidora has activated her lawsuit and still has
her love of luxuries, but a new reality of discord with Pez (about money and other
women) as well as new problems with her brother now plague her.
Chapter 2 (“Liquidación”) is tripartite. The first section is devoted exclusively to the A
theme as the narrator addresses Isidora directly and admonishes her for living a “vida
ilusoria y fantástica” (II, ii, 1: 267). He finds particularly detrimental her love of luxuries,
her lawsuit, her illusion that her brother can be educated, and, especially, her waste of
time and money on Pez. The second section of the chapter illustrates the seriousness of
the latter problem. Isidora has received a letter from Pez, who once again needs money,
so she implores her aunt, La Sanguijuelera, to loan her 2000 reales. Clearly functioning again
as an incarnation of the B theme, La Sanguijuelera once more has an opportunity to point
out Isidora’s weaknesses before she agrees to the loan. Even such a loan is not sufficient,
and Isidora has to supplement by sending José Relimpio out to pawn personal items. The
third and final section of the chapter presents Isidora as still moneyless and having now
pawned nearly all her furniture (except her bed).8 Consequently, she decides that she will
have to earn a living. Having read about other young women who were forced to work in
order to pass from “la humildad de la buhardilla al esplendor de un palacio,” she exults:
¡La honrada pobreza y la lucha con la adversidad cuán bellas son! Pensó,
pues, que la costura, la fabricación de flores o encajes le cuadraban bien, y
no pensó en otras industrias, pues no se acordaba de haber leído que
ninguna de la heroínas se ocupara de menesteres bajos, de cosas
malolientes o poco finos. (II, ii, 3: 281)
Chamberlin 19
Emphasis on the A theme continues in the next chapter (II, iii), entitled “Entreacto en la
iglesia.” A month after we last saw her, Isidora still has had no time to select an
occupation: “Entre bañarse, peinarse, vestir y arreglar a ‘Riquín’ [su hijo], se le iba la
mañana” (II, iii: 285). In the afternoons she likes to go to church, not only for the
superficial aspects and pomp of the services, but more insistently to see and envy the
important and aristocratic people present. She fantasizes that winning her lawsuit will
soon allow her to take her proper place among them. However, José Relimpio (who has
been Isidora’s A-theme companion in the most recent chapters while he enthusiastically
keeps their financial records) now tells her that she is not only broke, but deeply in debt.
Consequently, Isidora has no recourse but to accept as a lover/protector the very
opposite of her heart’s desire: Sánchez Botín, a non-elegant, older, non-aristocratic,
repugnant man whose attention she repeatedly attracted at church. Although Galdós
does not repeat the presentation in volume I of characters playing a Beethoven sonata,
the title of the fourth chapter of volume II, “A o B . . . , Palante,” might lead the reader
into thinking of two contending (musical) themes as he or she approaches the chapter.
Might Galdós be inviting the reader to speculate which theme will be featured in this new
chapter? In any case, in the opening paragraph the narrator reiterates the clear-cut
distinction between Isidora (always an incarnation of the A theme) and her brother,
Mariano (B theme).9 Then Galdós decides to proceed with the B theme, subsequently
bifurcating it as he moves from a focus on Mariano to the introduction of a new
personification of the reality theme, the lithographer Juan Bou. The latter is the
proletarian entrepreneur to whom Mariano becomes apprenticed. The rest of the chapter
focuses on Bou, his business, his apprentices, and his relationship with Mariano. Only at
the end of the chapter does the narrator reveal that Juan Bou likes (as does Galdós) to
think in binary terms, and to move them forward, as we see that both “A o B” as well as
“palante” are speech and thought characterizations specific to Bou (II, iv, 2: 301-04)—
and that they are probably the source of the chapter’s title. Nevertheless, by leaving the
title unexplained, Galdós has made connections again with the musical substructure.
Chapter 5 (“Entreacto en el café”) serves as a transition from B back to A. Mariano, now
seldom working and addicted to gambling and womanizing, spends a great deal of time in
a café. José Relimpio, continuing to represent the A theme, comes to the café seeking
solace from Mariano. He feels this need because Isidora’s new protector, Sánchez Botín,
refuses him admission into the house where the latter has installed Isidora as his mistress.
Relimpio subsequently serves as a conduit to an end-of-chapter focus on Isidora. The
latter is as beautiful and well-dressed as ever, but her reputation has disintegrated. As she
is about to go forth on a mysterious errand, the narrator reveals, “[C]uantos la
encontraban sabían que [ya] no era un lady” (II, v: 311).
Notwithstanding Isidora’s new status as Sánchez Botín’s mistress, she has a secret
assignation with Pez (“Escena vigésima quinta” [II, vi]), where she enthusiastically gives
full rein to her A-theme tendencies. Pez, now for the first time, functions also as primarily
an A-theme representative, especially as he excuses his past failures and misconduct: “Yo
vivo en lo ideal, yo sueño, yo deliro y acato la belleza pura, yo tengo arrobos platónicos”
(II, vi: 322). However, Pez has enough grip on reality to accept the money (which Isidora
has raised with great difficulty) and to refuse to recognize their child legally.
Chamberlin 20
The A theme with a focus on Isidora continues in chapter 7. She is in fact the title
protagonist, its “Flamenca Cytherea” (or Venus flamenca). Rebelling against Sánchez Botín
and his domination, Isidora defies his prohibition to participate in Madrid’s annual
Romería de San Isidro:
El vestirse de pueblo, lejos de ofender el orgullo de Isidora, encajaba bien
dentro de él, porque era en verdad cosa bonita y graciosa que una gran
dama tuviera el antojo de disfrazarse para presenciar más a su gusto las
fiestas y divertimientos del pueblo. En varias novelas de malos y buenos
autores había visto Isidora caprichos semejantes, y también en una célebre
zarzuela y en una ópera. (II, vii: 326)
When Isidora returns from the romería, she finds Sánchez Botín furious also because he
has learned that she had pawned (in order to help Pez) some of the jewelry that he had
given her and replaced it with fakes. Much harsher reality than she had expected now
assaults Isidora, as Sánchez Botín terminates their relationship, and she leaves his house
that very night. The B theme continues to predominate now as her former protector tells
the departing Isidora, “Isidora [. . .] oye la voz de un amigo. Vuelve en ti, reflexiona,
acuérdate de lo que muchas veces te he dicho. ¿Por qué no has de entrar en una vida
ordenada? Yo estoy dispuesto a auxiliarte, proporcionándote un estanco. [. . .] Puedes
contar con el estanco” (II, vii: 333-34).
Reality continues to triumph over Isidora in chapter 8 (“Entreacto en la calle de los
abades”). Forced to take refuge in José Relimpio’s house, now commandeered by his son
Melchor, Isidora’s impracticality and love of luxuries soon has her so compromised
financially that she is forced to surrender sexually to Melchor. This unhappy situation is
resolved only when Melchor is forced to flee the city, just one step ahead of the police. As
occurred at the end of the previous chapter, Isidora is once again without a protector,
and, most importantly, now without funds for everyday necessities.
A third, more sincere protector offers himself to Isidora in the following (ninth) chapter
(“La caricia del oso”). Here the A and B themes clash intensely as Mariano’s employer,
Juan Bou, and Isidora tour the Aransis mansion. While Isidora silently takes great
pleasure in examining all the mansion’s treasures (which she thinks her lawsuit will soon
obtain for her), Bou vociferously denigrates them all. For Isidora, this is “la profanación
más odiosa. Era como el hereje que pisotea la hostia” (II, ix: 356). Bou also offends her
sensibilities when he abominates the aristocracy and wishes for its destruction. Only when
he discovers Isidora weeping in a bedroom where she has found refuge does Bou
remember Isidora’s lawsuit and that this mansion is the very one to which she aspires. His
subsequent, sincere proposal of marriage is rejected as Isidora experiences “horror y asco.
Toda la nobleza de su ser se sublevó alborotada, llena de soberbia; [. . .] ella era noble”
(II, ix: 358-59). Thus one sees clearly that at this point in the novel there is no possibility
of a reconciliation of the contending A and B themes. Both themes are still in strong
opposition, and their contention must continue.
We are, however, now at the end of the development section. The author has certainly
explored the possibilities of what can happen to a beautiful, young provincial who
Chamberlin 21
disdains working for a living as she attempts to live in the capital and pursue an irrational
lawsuit. Even the harshest kind of reality, as was prefigured at the end of the exposition
section when La Sanguijuelera savagely dominated Isidora, seems now to be no match for
the A theme’s protagonist. Thus we see that, analogous to the dynamics of a sonata-form
structure, the strength of Galdós’s B theme has been weakened, as it has interplayed with
the A theme throughout the development section. As evidence of this we note, for
example, that La Sanguijuelera herself is now reconciled to Isidora and even facilitates her
irrational behavior by loaning her money. Moreover, Juan Bou, the incarnation of the B
theme here at the end of the development section, is easier for Isidora to deal with than
was La Sanguiuelera at the end of the exposition.
The recapitulation section in a typical sonata form brings about a final settlement of the
A-theme/B-theme contention or argument which has been the structural framework of
the entire movement to this point. As the word “recapitulation” suggests, the material is
also a restatement and review of the most important ideas and elements that have gone
before—specifically, the basic conflicts are once again expressed. In addition, the
composer must demonstrate that, in spite of the A-theme/B-theme contention, these two
main themes can indeed coexist and have in fact some capacity for a certain amount of
harmony and compatibility. Although this may have been shown from time to time
earlier, it must now be demonstrated explicitly in order to prepare the listener to accept
the yielding of the B theme at the end of the recapitulation section (rather than to expect
the complete annihilation of one or both themes).
A musical composer can, in his or her recapitulation section, restate literally note for note
the earlier material in precise chronological order. A novelist, of course, cannot, since he
or she must constantly be introducing new material to hold the reader’s interest and to
move the story forward.10 This is Galdós’s technique as he reviews (recapitulates) for the
reader the fundamental conflict between illusion and reality—originally presented in the
exposition—as Isidora continues to experience life in Madrid.
Let us see how Galdós accomplishes this recapturing of themes. Remembering, of course,
his original sequence and symmetry, our author begins the recapitulation with emphasis
upon the A theme. Just as a musical composer may present the listener with the repetition
of a theme in a different key, so Galdós, early on in his recapitulation, shows his
consummate skill as a novelist by the interesting variations on his original themes. Thus
we find (II, x) that although Isidora still believes in her nobleza and suffers from “el loco
amor al lujo y las comodidades,” she, her son, and her godfather actually have nothing to
eat (II, x, 1: 362). For help she turns to Miquis, who recalls (recapitulates) their long-ago
Sunday-afternoon outing: El Retiro, El Prado, a shared orange, and his flirting with her
(II, x, 1: 367). Once again Isidora is soon living in a private home, and again it is with the
Relimpios. Now, however, with Doña Laura deceased, Isidora and her godfather live
with the latter’s married daughter (II, x, 2: 371-83). As in the exposition, Isidora cannot
bring herself to do any work. Soon she again desires fine clothing, for now the modista who
made her dresses when she was the mistress of rich men, lives upstairs. Miquis catches her
there, but she again rejects his admonishments. Joaquín Pez again has a profound effect
Chamberlin 22
on Isidora. Now he does not leave a fancy calling card; rather, he is poverty-stricken.
After again being a disappointment to her host family, Isidora leaves them to become
once more a kept woman, this time by Bou. Nevertheless, she is soon seeing Pez again;
now instead of his bringing her money to survive, it is the other way around. Once again
Isidora and Pez give full rein to their fantasies (II, xii, recalling II, vi). He tells her she will
win her lawsuit, he will marry her, and they will travel the world together. She, however,
now prefers to remain single and fantasizes about the luxuries she will soon have. Harsh
reality soon follows these A-theme illusions when Isidora is arrested for falsification of
documents (II, xii: 407-08).
Chapter 13 of volume II (“En el Modelo”) illustrates well our earlier assertion that a
novelist (unlike a musical composer) cannot recapitulate material from the exposition
section literally, nor in exact chronological order. Were this the case, Galdós would have
begun his recapitulation section with Tomás Rufete in the Leganés asylum. However, he
chooses to recapitulate this setting later in the volume when he places Isidora herself in a
situation analogous to that experienced by her father. Imprisoned on the charges of
document falsification, Isidora is incarcerated in Madrid’s newly constructed women’s
prison.11 Miquis is again present, and the sights and sounds of the institution are evocative
of those presented in the novel’s opening chapter at the Leganés asylum. Once again the
A theme shows great strength, as Isidora adapts to prison life by imagining that she is
Marie Antoinette, a classic symbol of delusion (II, xiii: 411).
But paralleling Galdós’s technique at this stage of his exposition, the B theme becomes
dominant when Mariano’s behavior again deteriorates. For some time now he has not
only been associating with the lowest dregs of society, but has even been planting terrorist
bombs (II, xiv, 1: 429-30). Finally, in a recapitulative echo of his earlier killing of a boy,
he buys a pistol and attempts to kill the king (II, xvi: 456).
The title of the last chapter in Galdós’s recapitulation section (“Disolución” [II, xvii]) is
quite appropriate, as now nearly all of Isidora’s illusions dissolve. Reality at last triumphs
over irrationality and illusion. After Mariano’s attempted regicide, Isidora realizes that
there is no hope of educating and reforming him. Additionally, now tired of imagining
herself in the role of Marie Antoinette (II, xvii, 1: 459), Isidora signs documents
relinquishing aspirations to the Aransis aristocracy in order to terminate her
imprisionment.12 She must also give up her illusion of a life with Joaquín Pez, el Marqués
Saldeoro, for he has returned from Cuba a married man. Even her recently formulated
contingency plan to marry Juan Bou has to be abandoned, for he has also married. Thus
it is appropriate for Galdós to conclude his recapitulation section by recalling Isidora’s
kept-woman status, since she now has to accept a new lover/protector.13 The latter is
Gaitica, a gambler from the lowest dregs of society, who entices Isidora into his casapalacio, saying:
Una persona que sale de la cárcel no puede hallarse en disposición de
atenderse a las primeras necesidades. Así, cuando usted entre por puerta,
hallará una modista y un chico de la tienda de sombreros que irá con
muestras. [. . . Además] allí tengo un cuarto de baño. (II, xvii, 2: 466)14
Chamberlin 23
For a time Isidora again seems to flourish and is repeatedly seen elegantly dressed. Before
long, however, her friends note a marked deterioration in her clothing, physical
appearance, and manner of speaking. After three months, she ends up abandoned by her
protector (as was her fate at the end of the development section). Once again she has no
money. And now, more serious than her earlier beating by La Sanguijuelera, she must
endure having her beautiful face scarred forever by Gaitica’s knife.
Galdós’s last full chapter (II, xviii), excluding the narrator’s own two-sentence moraleja (II,
xix), constitutes his coda. Willi Apel and Ralph Daniel define the coda as a “concluding
passage or section, falling outside the basic structure of a composition, and added to
obtain or heighten the impression of finality” (62). The coda at the end of a sonata-form
composition traditionally emphasizes the A theme in order to demonstrate that, although
it was overshadowed at the end of the exposition and throughout the development
section, it has triumphed and has the right to a final statement. However, the A theme
itself, because of its constant contention and interplay with the B theme, has now ended
up being considerably changed also.
Such a change is certainly noticeable in Isidora in Galdós’s coda. In fact, as most critics
have noted, we have an entirely different protagonist at the end of the novel. However,
there is one illusion that she has not renounced: her belief that she deserves and needs
luxuries (“el delirio de las cosas buenas” [II, xvii: 473]). Consequently, when a
whoremongering procuress shows her the clothes that she can wear if she comes to work
for her (II, xviii: 481), these desired luxuries become a motivating factor for Isidora’s
opting for prostitution.
Recent criticism has emphasized other motivating factors, such as a desire for
independence or a need for self-expression. For example, Wifredo de Ráfols states:
Instead of committing suicide (an option she considers), she nullifies her
social identity and re-invents herself. Instead of accepting charity or any
number of offers of bourgeois economic security [. . .], she chooses
prostitution and the relative economic independence it promises.
[. . . Moreover, the] chapter title “Muerte de Isidora” represents not so
much Isidora’s moral suicide as an immoral homicide that is perpetuated
by an insane and unjust patriarchal society. Whether by suicide or
homicide, Isidora dies in name only. What dies with that name are her two
mutually irreconcilable lives, as well as the eponymous fiction to which
they gave rise (80-81).
Regardless of how one chooses to interpret Isidora’s final accommodation with the only
reality possible, considering her heredity and environment, I believe that another way of
stating the truth of the last sentence in the above quotation is to affirm that the novel’s
two competing themes, like two contending musical themes, are indeed literally and
figuratively at last played out. Isidora, with her unrelinquishable desire for luxuries, has
no recourse finally except to integrate herself into the harsh realities of prostitution. Then
Chamberlin 24
Galdós confirms, I believe, that the novel-long contention between the A and B themes is
now over by having the alcoholic José Relimpio, the last remaining active incarnation of
the A theme, expire. This action also allows the narrator to reiterate for a final time the
axis of the novel’s binary oposition: “Su muerte fue semejante a aquel dulce acceso de
embriaguez que le transportaba, mediante una breve toma, desde las miserias de la realidad a
las delicias de una vida apócrifa, compuesta con extraños fingimientos de juventud, pasión y
energía” (II, xxvii: 489, emphasis added).
As this study has demonstrated, Galdós did clearly follow the sonata form as he created
La desheredada, departing from it mainly to make volume I a self-contained, publishable
work in its own right. His artistry in La desheredada occurred nineteen years before he
openly acknowledged in Alma y vida that he followed “el plan y los módulos de la
composición beethoviana” (900). La desheredada also precedes by ten years Tristana, where
Galdós not only used the sonata-form structure, but also presented a character playing
Beethoven sonatas. Further study will be needed to determine whether or not specific
Beethoven sonatas can be identified as models for La desheredada and Tristana. In the
meantime, let us note that in both novels Galdós made no effort to conceal what he was
doing. In fact, in each he seems to be planting a playful clue (as he and other nineteenthcentury novelists were wont to do) concerning his creativity.
Why should La desheredada be the first in which Galdós chooses to pattern his novel after a
musical composition? We may never know for sure, but two factors should be considered.
The first is his friendship with fellow music lover Dr. Tolosa Latour, who, as is well
documented, served as the prototype for Miquis. It is possible that there may be some
inside, personal humor in La desheredada as Galdós amiably presents Miquis as a bumbling
sonata player. More importantly, it has been shown that Galdós simplified and sharpened
the delineation of important characters as he moved from his initial (Alpha) manuscript to
the final (Beta) version in order to make them stand in clearer opposition and apposition
(Schnepf, “Naturalistic Content” 53-60; Urey 5). Such a procedure produces characters
more conducive to the kind of interplay which is typical of musical themes in a sonata.
Moreover, critics agree that La desheredada marks a definite change from Galdós’s earlier
novels, that it is the first of his segunda época, and that it contains elements of Zolaesque
naturalism. For example, the same hereditary characteristics are shared by all the
members of the Rufete family: Isidora, her father, her uncle, her godfather, and her
brother. By making them all suffer varying degrees of mental illness and using them most
frequently to carry forward his initial A theme (which at the end of a work always turns
out to be the stronger), Galdós is able to effect in a very original way the naturalist’s
insistence on the inevitable consequences of negative heredity. Critics tend to agree that
Galdós’s naturalism is softer, “more mitigated” than Zola’s (Pattison 63). An important
key to a deeper understanding of this achievement (as Galdós moved away from the very
strong naturalism of his Alpha manuscript)15 may lie in the interrelationship between
Galdós’s love of music and his novelistic creativity.
Chamberlin 25
For such demonstrations, see Chamberlin, “Sonata Form” (83-96) and Galdós and
Beethoven (21-48).
2 This point is established in Aronson (66), Cluck (153-224), and Burgess (Personal
Interview, 19 October 1977).
3 This numeration includes one-line sentences in conversations, as well as the usual
definitions of a paragraph.
4 In 1974, Frank Durand correctly identified the novel’s two major themes as illusion and
reality, “which involve an alternating and fluctuating movement [. . . from one to the
other].” However, he makes no mention of music or musical structure (191-201).
Also, Robert Russell has pointed out a structural similarity concerning the initial
ascent and subsequent descent of the protagonist in La desheredada and the typical
naturalist novel (794-800). Again there is no mention of music or musical structure.
5 The numbers in parenthesis refer to volume, chapter, section (when applicable), and
6 Eamonn Rodgers finds Galdos’s description of the rope factory much like the naturalist
“set piece” descriptions of industrial conditions in the late nineteenth-century (70).
One of the best-known examples would be the foundry where Gervaise’s son,
Etienne, works in Zola’s L’Assommoir (I, vi: 205-222).
7 These chapters have been discussed by Stephanie Sieburth (67-76) and Martha KrowLucal (20-31). Neither makes any mention of musical structure or sonata form.
8 The narrator says, “La cama dorada de la alcoba permanecía como núcleo y
fundamento de la casa” (II, ii, 3: 279). For the symbolic connotations of the bed, as
well as those of other furnishings in Isidora’s house, see Wright (230-45).
9 Here is the narrator’s complete statement: “Parece que la Naturaleza quiso hacer en
aquella pareja sin ventura dos ejemplares contrapuestos de moral desvarío, pues si ella
vivía en una inspiración insensata a las cosas altas, poniendo como dice San Agustín,
su nido en las estrellas, él se inclinaba por instinto a las cosas groseras y bajas” (II, iv,
1: 289).
10 I am indebted to Anthony Burgess, author of the novel Napoleon Symphony, for
confirmation of this opinion (personal interview, 2 November 1975; class lecture).
11 For the political and financial scandals associated with the construction of this
establishment, and Galdós’s interest in them, see Schnepf, “Scandal” (36-49).
12 For the terrible conditions in this particular prison in the 1880s, including bribery,
prostitution, and exploitive lesbianism, see Schnepf, “Scandal” (36-49).
13 In consonance with the fact that the recapitulation section in the music of a sonata
form is shorter than the development section, Galdós reduces the number of Isidora’s
lover/protectors from four to one.
14 For the newly-acquired importance of the baño in late nineteenth-century Spain, see
Fernández Cifuentes (363-83).
15 For an appreciation of how Galdós also toned down or “mitigated” the stark naturalism
of his own preliminary version of La desheredada, see Schnepf, “Naturalistic Content”
(53-59) and “Creation” (61-65).
Chamberlin 26
Works Cited
Aronson, Alex. Music and the Novel: A Study in Twentieth Century Fiction. Totowa, NJ:
Rowman and Littlefield, 1980.
Apel, Willi and Ralph Daniel. The Harvard Brief Dictionary of Music. Cambridge: Harvard
UP, 1966.
Burgess, Anthony. Class lecture. 19 October 1977.
---. Napoleon Symphony: A Novel in Four Movements. New York: Knopf, 1974.
---. Personal interview. 2 November 1975.
---. Personal interview. 19 October 1977.
Chamberlin, Vernon. “The Sonata Form Structure of Tristana.” Anales Galdosianos 20.1
(1985): 83-96; rpt. “The Perils of Interpreting Fortunata’s Dream” and Other Studies in
Galdós: 1961-2002. Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 2002. 259-72.
---. Galdós and Beethoven: Fortunata y Jacinta, A Symphonic Novel. London: Tamesis, 1977.
Cluck, Nancy Anne. Essays on Form: Literature and Music. Provo: Brigham Young UP, 1981.
Durand, Frank. “The Reality of Illusion: La desheredada.” MLN 89 (1974): 191-201.
Fernández Cifuentes, Luis. “Galdós y las arquitecturas del asedo.” Letras Peninsulares 13.1
(2000): 363-83.
Krow-Lucal, Martha. “The Marquesa de Aransis: A Galdosian Reprise.” Essays in Honor
of Jorge Guillén on the Occasion of his Eighty-fifth Year. Cambridge, MA: Abedul, 1977.
Pattison, Walter. Benito Pérez Galdós. Boston: Twayne, 1975.
Pérez Galdós, Benito. Alma y vida. Obras completas. Ed. F. C. Sáinz de Robles. 2ª ed. Vol.
VI. Madrid: Aguilar, 1951.
---. La desheredada. Ed. Enrique Miralles. Barcelona: Planeta, 1991.
---. Tristana. Obras completas. Ed. F. C. Sáinz de Robles. 3ª ed. Vol. V. Madrid: Aguilar,
Ratner, Leonard G. Music: The Listener’s Art. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 1966.
Rodgers, Eamonn. From Enlightenment to Realism: The Novels of Galdós: 1870-1887. Dublin:
[E. Rodgers], 1987.
Russell, Robert H. “The Structure of La desheredada.” MLN 76 (1961): 794-800.
Schnepf, Michael. “From Galdós’s La desheredada Manuscript: Male Characters in
Transition.” Romance Quarterly 39 (1992): 53-60.
---. “On the Creation and Execution of ‘Pecado’ in Galdós’s La Desheredada.” Anales
Galdosianos 34 (1999): 61-68.
---. “Scandal and La Cárcel Modelo: More Intertextual ‘Bouncing’ in Galdos’s La
desheredada.” Romance Quarterly 49 (2002): 36-49.
---. “The Naturalistic Content of the La desheredada Manuscript.” Anales Galdosianos 24
(1989): 53-59.
Sieburth, Stephanie. Inventing High and Low: Literature, Mass Culture, and Uneven Modernity in
Spain. Durham: Duke UP, 1994.
Sopeña Ibáñez, Federico. Arte y sociedad en Galdós. Madrid: Gredos, 1970.
Urey, Diane F. Galdós and the Irony of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982.
Verdaguer, Mario. Medio siglo de la vida Barcelonesa. Barcelona: Barna, 1975.
Chamberlin 27
Wright, Chad G. “The Representational Qualities of Isidora Rufete’s House and Her
Son Ruiquín in Pérez Galdós’s La desheredada.” Romanische Forschungen 83 (1971): 23045.
Zola, Emile. L’Assommoir. Paris: Bibliotheque-Carpentier, 1925.
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